Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book Review: Countdown

Countdown by Deborah Wiles. (Grades 4-7.) Scholastic Press, May 2010. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


Franny is used to practicing "duck and cover" in school. She knows that the Russians could drop a bomb on them at any moment, completely obliterating life as she knows it. Tensions are running high as news breaks that the Russians have missiles in Cuba, pointing right at the United States. But the bomb's not the only thing causing tension in Franny's life - her best friend is being mean to her, her sister's busy at college and involved in something she won't tell Franny about, and her uncle is trapped in his post-traumatic stress delusions from something tragic that happened in WWI.

Based on the author's experience as a child growing up in the '60s, Countdown takes readers back in time with its unique "documentary novel" format. Archival photos, ads, song lyrics, and factual information accompany Franny's story, helping readers to understand the events happening in Franny's world. It's really extraordinary.

Obviously this book, the first of a trilogy, is a labor of love. I can't imagine the amount of research and work that went into creating it. A lot. And it's pretty much awesome. In nonfiction passages, the reader learns about JFK, Harry Truman, and other figures of the day. We see ads from the 1960s reminding children to duck and cover to protect themselves from the bomb.

Even though I felt like Franny's story gets a little lost in the shuffle, the format alone is reason to pick up the book. It's a visually stunning work that'll appeal to middle-graders interested in history and the 1960s. It'll be a valuable classroom resource for teachers doing units on the 60s. And I even lent it to one of my coworkers who grew up in the '60s and she loved it!

Read more reviews at Educating Alice, A Year of Reading, and A Fuse #8 Production, and check out this post from Deborah Wiles's blog which offers a peek inside the book.

Countdown will be on shelves May 1.